History Lessons

History Lessons

A Memoir of Madness, Memory, and the Brain

Book - 2014
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"Born in Louisiana to a soon-to-be absent father and an alcoholic mother--who tried to drown him in a bathtub when he was three--Clifton Crais spent his childhood perched beside his mother on a too-tall bar stool, living with relatives too old or infirmed to care for him, or rambling on his own through New Orleans, a city both haunted and created by memory. Indeed, it is memory--both elusive and essential--that forms the center of Crais's beautifully rendered memoir History Lessons. In an effort to restore his own, Crais brings the tools of his formal training as a historian to bear on himself and his family. He interviews his sisters and his mother, revisits childhood homes and pores over documentary evidence: plane tickets, postmarks, court and medical records, crumbling photo albums. Probing family lore, pushing past silences and exhuming long-buried family secrets, he arrives, ultimately, at the deepest reaches of the brain. Crais examines the science of memory and forgetting, from the ways in which experience shapes the developing brain to the mechanisms that cause the chronic childhood amnesia--the most common and least understood form of amnesia--from which he suffers"--Jacket.
Publisher: New York, NY : The Overlook Press, 2014.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9781468303681
1468303686
Branch Call Number: 616.8523 CRA
Characteristics: 272 p. ; 21 cm.

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DorisWaggoner
Dec 21, 2015

Crais suffers from chronic childhood amnesia, the most common and least understood form of the malady. His New Orleans childhood is a blank to him, except for a few vague "snapshot" memories he can only place in time by the memories of others. He becomes a historian, and applies the methods of his profession in an attempt to find those missing memories. He brings in the insights of neurological research into brain development, without learning much more. His older siblings, who apparently lived through much worse trauma than he did, stay mired in the problems of their parents. Did his ability to transcend them, and end up a history professor, depend on his efforts, however unsuccessful, to understand his childhood trauma? The neurological explanations he seeks are the weakest part of the book, for me. When he stays closest to his family and his search to know his own past, he's the strongest. I wanted to weep for his suffering, but his own resilience made me cheer instead.

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